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Application Strategies and a Friendly Look at the Competition this year


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This. Absolutely, 100% this. 

 

You're cool. I wish you had applied to Maryland! I do some work with feminist discourses in online spaces. In a few months, I will be presenting a paper on resistant hashtags in U.S. queer and feminist digital spaces. You should PM me when you're in a program and settled-- we could put together a panel or co-write a paper in the future! YAY CONNECTIONS! 

 

That's awesome! And I will definitely do so--I love this topic so much and I'm hoping to get in somewhere and pursue it further!

 

I will say, I struggled with the "fit" portion of choosing schools because I had a hard time finding programs that seemed to have some strong focus in online media and discourse. Maybe if Maryland is strong in that regard I'll apply there the next time around? Then again, as discussed in another topic, determining fit is so arbitrary anyway...

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This. Absolutely, 100% this.

You're cool. I wish you had applied to Maryland! I do some work with feminist discourses in online spaces. In a few months, I will be presenting a paper on resistant hashtags in U.S. queer and feminist digital spaces. You should PM me when you're in a program and settled-- we could put together a panel or co-write a paper in the future! YAY CONNECTIONS!

That is an amazing idea for a project! I've recently been fascinated by the way that allies engage with social media (leaving that purposely super-vague), but I'm still in the early thoughts portion of building a paper. If ever you do form that panel, let me know because I'd definitely want in.

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Just a heads up, this'll be a long one!

 

This is my first (and hopefully last) year of applying to grad school, and like everyone else, I'm bouncing off the walls trying to get through the last few weeks. I've been looking through the board and seeing how people have applied to like 16 programs, and It makes me feel like my choice to apply to only five schools was a bad one. in short, I am afraid that I am so inexperienced in this process that I might have made some fatal errors, so I wanted to open a thread to talk about qualifications and application strategies, in hopes I can get a better idea of where i stand and help others maybe do the same. I've noticed there isn't a whole lot of talk about individual credentials around here, so I hope I'm not out of line starting a thread like this. I just thought it would be nice to get a look at the competition as well as everyone's strategies for applying, and get opinions and more full pictures to match up with the acceptance/rejection statistics on the other part of the site when the time comes.

 

About me:

I earned my BA in English with an emphasis in Literature from New Mexico State University, a university that doesn't even usually rank on any lists. I've got a 3.9 overall GPA and a 4.0 in English Literature, and graduated with distinction in honors. I scored in the 93rd percentile on my general GRE, and I wrote an honors thesis my senior year as an undergrad. I won many awards and scholarships for my essays from the English department, and I studied Jane Austen abroad at Oxford for six weeks one summer, in addition to placing as a finalist in the national Atlas Shrugged contest. I also worked at my university's newspaper for 1 year and my university arts and sciences library (as an aid) for 4 years. I have no publications, no teaching experience, and no foreign language (not since high school). I have studied for at least one semester in several other fields, including nursing, accounting, biology, and other sciences and actually have lab research experience in psychology, as well as a BA in Psychology. I am interested in 19th Century British Literature (Romanticism, Gothicism, Victorianism), Modernism, as well as Feminism/Gender Studies. Oh, also, if it matters, I am female and half hispanic.

 

My Application Strategies:

     i originally had a list of 9 schools I wanted to apply to, but tapered the number down as I discovered that I would not have either the time or resources to complete applications in the way I wanted to for that many schools. In the end, I applied to Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Rice, University of Arizona, and University of New Mexico. I had my CV professionally designed by loftresumes.com. i've heard mixed things about having your cv/resume professionally designed, but in the end, I thought the simple design I chose, accented with a peach color, couldn't hurt. I put my Personal Statement as well as my writing sample on pages that matched my CV. Specifically, I put my letterhead at the top of both of these pieces for the first page, and on all the other pages put gray and peach bars on the top and bottom, with a running head like this: (Last name Writing Sample, page #). 

 

     i personalized my Personal Statement for each university. The first half was all the same-- opening with a story from nursing school and an (i hope) deep, bittersweet quip about how understanding people is more rewarding for me than saving them, and go on to talk about my career goals, how my wide experience in other disciplines has made me sure of my course, my love of literature, my strengths and weaknesses, and my experience writing my honors thesis. The second half varied with each school. I tried to show I knew about the school, understood what it meant to move to the area from the place i currently live, and tried to show as well, by picking and discussing a single POI (except for UPenn and UNM) that I knew what I wanted out of their program, as well as how my interests meshed with their research areas.

 

     For my Writing Sample, I extracted a 16 page piece of my honors thesis on Christabel by Coleridge and totally reworked and expanded on it. by the time it was done, I had a 24 page writing sample. And this is where I tried to be really different, and why i had to cut down on the number of schools I applied to. My idea was to choose one POI from each University, discuss them in my personal statement, and also integrate a journal article of theirs into my writing sample. This, as you can imagine, was no easy task, and in order to achieve seamless integration of their ideas into my essay, in two months, I was only able to complete this for my Brown application and my Rice application-- though, most successfully for my Brown application. I chose a paper by Ellen Rooney from Brown and a paper by Helena Mitchie from Rice. In case you're wondering, no, I did not write several versions of my paper, which might have been smarter but somehow struck me as dishonest. I started with Mitchie's paper, and rewrote my essay using that, then did the entire process again for Rooney's paper. I did not research a POI for UPenn, and so talked about aspects of the program I liked, after looking through the graduate handbook. I did the same for UNM. For U of A, I identified Hogle as a person of interest, but could not integrate his work into my already weighty paper due not only to time constraints but also length limits. I have also heard numerous things about identifying POIs in your application. I decided to do it so that I could integrate their work into my writing sample-- which, admittedly, is also risky. What if they don't like how I used their ideas? I knew identifying only one could be a problem, but at the same time, I felt like identifying more than one could appear wishy-washy and insincere. My hope was that, particularly at Brown (my first choice), if Rooney couldn't take me on, others wouldn't mind doing so since (it is my understanding) she is primarily a feminist. Thus, my hope was that someone that was primarily a literature scholar would still want to take me on even if they weren't my first choice simply because my first choice was (largely) from a different discipline-- ah, Brown and their multidisciplinary professors! One of the things I really love! (this is not to say I don't truly want to work with her. I went over at least 3 of her papers in depth. Her work is amazing!)

 

I did not submit any of my applications until at least a week before they were due. Some i submitted on the day they were due (could not stop obsessively proof reading!). i've heard that some grad programs actually start reviewing applications as soon as the systems open. I hope thats a myth!  

 

I hope others want to share this stuff and i'm not the only one! I'm very interested to know about how others are qualified and what their strategies and thoughts on the process were. If you have any comments on my qualifications or application process, even if its "Oh no! you did that?" I'd like to hear that too, while I'm still in a positive receptive mood, before the inevitable rejections start trickling in, so that I can start getting strategies together for next year if I don't get in this go around. I mean, I think the first thing everyone thinks when they're rejected is, "What did I do wrong?". It would offer at least some comfort if I could answer that question for myself if need be.

 

Did you do the Oxford Summer Seminar through UMass? 

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Oh, man. So many stats here, and so much self-branding! Someone above mentioned that this could be a bit off-putting, and I think I´m seeing why...

 

If you're clear about what you'd like to research (yet still flexible enough to take direction from your advisors) and if you can show that you have the skills to finish a large project -- you´re fine. Just a matter of finding an amenable department to do your research in. May take a few tries. May not end up where you first hoped. Plenty of opportunity to keep reading and writing in the meantime.

 

Don't equate yourself with your CV: all these stats sound like something engraved on a tombstone.

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On 2/5/2014 at 7:50 PM, shortstack51 said:

Ladystardust, your app sounds much more thought out and put together than mine!

This is an interesting thread.

I got a BA from a small Catholic school with no graduate program to speak of. Graduated with a 3.95 cum Summa cum laude and a 4.0 in my major (English) with an Honors minor and a Philosophy minor. I won the Gold Metal in the English department on graduating, won a writing prize, and had presented at a conference. I applied to 6 programs out of undergrad, 5 of them top ranking combined programs (a huge mistake), and I was rejected from all 5. I was accepted for an unfunded MA at a top 50 school with no combined program but a separate PhD program. I took the opportunity and am graduating in May. I am graduating with a 3.899 (oh the pain of that missing .001). Experience-wise, I have had a lot of experience as both a TA and a tutor.

I am also interested in Romanticism and I have a secondary interest in Queer Theory.

My application strategy was to apply to as many top 50 programs as possible. I followed instructions from my school's adcomm (who are very good at advising students), which instructed I mention POI and how the "fit" at the school would be as a segue into my writing sample. I did not get anything professionally designed, but perhaps I should have. I used a 20 page seminar paper from a critical theory course that discussed Romanticism and subjectivity as my writing sample. I edited portions out for the two or three schools that had a 15 page maximum length.

In my SOP, I mimicked successful SOPs schools had put online as examples. I picked 2-3 faculty members so as not to box myself in, researched their work, and found overlapping research and theoretical interests. I then discussed how my own work would benefit from interacting with them.

My general verbal score was only 89th percentile, but I scored a 650 on the subject test, which I am decently pleased about.

We did not apply to any of the same schools, so good luck to you! It's good to know we aren't direct competitors!

I hope we can all learn from each other's experiences.

Thanks Shortstack, this is exactly what I was hoping to hear from people. Your qualifications are intimidating; such a high subject test score and high GPA with an advanced degree from a school with a real name in the graduate school world! I had no idea that graduate schools put up example personal statements online. I wish I would have thought to look for that. Might have found examples from the schools I was applying to. I'll keep that in mind if I have to go through all this again next year. I also see that you and a lot of other people have gone to conferences to present work. That is amazing. I presented my honors thesis at what i think was a conference of sorts, but i never considered it a "real" conference, and I thought that conferences were for well established professors with high ranking Ph.Ds. How exciting to know that I may be able to try for them even now! And after getting my first rejection today, I am certainly thinking your strategy (and that of others that I've noticed have posted here) of choosing more than one POI is likely the smartest way to go about things. This is so helpful. Thanks Shortstack, and others who gave similar information.

Also, the resume design sounds much fancier than it is. I just sent in my basic info to loftresumes.com and, for $100, they put your info into one of their premade designs. I added a custom color for another $30 in hopes the committee wouldn't find my twin in their stack. I find this immensely helpful already. Good luck to you as well, Shortstack! :)

 

On 2/6/2014 at 12:34 AM, Kermit said:

This is really cool. I hope everyone gets in! And I'm sure you all will because from what I've heard the departments are looking into so many factors It comes down to whether someone can supervise you and how you fit the departments needs.

 

I'll contribute a bit of my own background.

I have a BSc in Physics from a well known Canadian institution. I ended up acquiring so many lit credits that my minor was able to change into a major so in one extra semester I fulfilled all the requirements and added on a BA at the last minute in Lit. My overall GPA was 3.26 but I had a 4.0 in my lit courses.

 

I took some time off to work on writing and starting publishing poetry in Canadian and American journals. This got me into a creative writing program at SFU and helped me create a manuscript. During this I did my own academic work on the side and applied to an English grad conference. At it I gave a talk and it impressed some professors who would encourage me outside the school since I couldn't afford two educations. They ended up writing my MA recommendation letters. (I was working full time since I was 17 supporting myself). I got to be the "Academic" for the Vancouver poetry conference and work with professors on research even thought I wasn't enrolled and published 10-15 more pieces.

 

I got into a Canadian school for a MA in English and Creative writing. I did all my classes on theory and digital humanities which is hopefully my phd focus. During this I presented at 2 national level conferences and 1 international conference at UMD college park. I ended up finishing my thesis (creative research project on Internet poetry) and my course work in less than 4 semesters and was one of the top students in my department with a 4.05 GPA with a A+ in a phd level course.  I TA-ed 3 times.

 

I have an article under consideration at an international journal and am currently doing research for professors and will be 2nd or 3rd author on a series of papers out this summer. I'm also an editor at a lit journal in Canada and publish essays within the magazine.

 

I talked with the professors from the schools as well as having my profs contact the ones who were friends. 1 at UC Boulder wrote an internal recommendation letter for me (ATLAS program), 2 at Stanford agreed to vouch for me and offered a fellowship IF accepted (MTL program), 1 at UMD wrote a secondary letter for me and 1 at UCSB is interested in working with me. I tried to include this info in my SOP.

 

I made my SOP all about my project and goals. I outlined clearly step by step details and how the school could provide assistance. Further I listed specific classes and profs that would help. I usually only put in 1 paragraph of my background near the end and included a secondary CV and website of my work. I'm also a finalist for the sshrc phd scholarship.

 

I'm also a student with disabilities so I'm hoping that works in my favour.

 

That's my academic career in a nutshell (help I'm stuck!) Point is I have a crazy different background that most people but I'm hoping it will make me more interesting.

I just wanted to say... wow. A physics in undergrad and a masters in creative writing. I took a couple physics classes as an undergrad, and they were grueling. Not that i know much about this stuff, but I would think an application like yours with those kinds of accomplishments would jump out at an admissions committee. I hope you get in where you most want to so you can keep building upon your already interesting resume :)

 

On 2/6/2014 at 1:16 AM, Kamisha said:

I don’t talk about my research because I don’t want people to capitalize on my ideas. It’s not that I don’t trust all of you...you just can never be too careful ;)

 

In all seriousness, I was told by several faculty members not to reveal too much about your research interest areas on the internet. 

Maybe what Chadillac meant was research about the prospective schools rather than individual research? Not sure, but if so, I am interested if anyone has any takes on how to go about that as well. I used ranking lists, graduate handbooks, forums where students reviewed their college experience (mostly undergrad, not very helpful) and even wikis to point me to historical facts that might give me some directions on where to look to give my personal statement some color. I find that looking to see what a programs strengths and weaknesses are (in terms of subject areas) is more difficult, and that seems an essential piece to determining "fit". My strategy was using an article database to find a list of several professors articles and kind of guess on the specific topics and critical lenses they favored, and try to determine a departmental trend. Long, hard work and not very successful. I only saw one program that directly talked about what it was strong in-- for the life of me I don't remember which one, but it was an east coast school that said right on the grad info page that they emphasized study in American Lit. Anyway, If there are suggestions on how to better research a school, I'd love to hear those.

 

So I did not do my writing sample and my personal statement on plain paper. I matched them to my CV. Does anyone think that this may come across as too gimmicky and hurt me in the application process? And any thoughts on using POIs papers to rewrite my writing sample? Is that just another way that I could box myself in?

 

I also wanted to say, I'm sorry if this is scaring some people. I am scared myself, and for me personally, I just feel less helpless if I can already start building solutions to problems that I may well have to face. I am certainly intimidated by many peoples track records, but their successes give me great ideas of where I can improve for next year (taking my GRE again, taking my subject GRE, looking into how to get into conferences, and finding examples of personal statements on the school websites that I'm applying to ). So thanks for the great material so far, everyone :)

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That is 100% what my paper is on! I make some references to #NotYourAsianSideKick and #feministselflies as well. Gah, I love Twitter. 

Very very cool!

 

I feel like English is still deciding what to do with social media, meanwhile the social sciences have taken it up and kept on moving. 

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Ladystardust, since you do ask, my take on your CV design, your matching writing sample, and your matching statement of purpose is that it is both unnecessary and, yes, may well come off as gimmicky. And while I understand your instinct to use professor's papers to rewrite your writing sample, I wonder if that wouldn't also come across similarly. If you do end up needing to reapply, I'd strongly recommend just plain old white paper with black (standard) font, and I recommend for your writing sample simply working on writing your best and most thoroughly-researched piece, and making sure it accurately reflects your interests. Just words on a page. Good luck!

 

ETA:

 

w/r/t your statement of purpose, I know others have already mentioned that more than one professor whose work interests you is a good idea, but I would also like to suggest avoiding much of what you describe here:

 

Quote
i personalized my Personal Statement for each university. The first half was all the same-- opening with a story from nursing school and an (i hope) deep, bittersweet quip about how understanding people is more rewarding for me than saving them, and go on to talk about my career goals, how my wide experience in other disciplines has made me sure of my course, my love of literature, my strengths and weaknesses, and my experience writing my honors thesis. The second half varied with each school. I tried to show I knew about the school, understood what it meant to move to the area from the place i currently live, and tried to show as well, by picking and discussing a single POI (except for UPenn and UNM) that I knew what I wanted out of their program, as well as how my interests meshed with their research areas.

 

 

Unless nursing school is relevant to your interests, I'd cut. I'd cut the quip about understanding people. I'd cut the love of literature and the "strengths and weaknesses." I received some helpful advice when I was applying: think about the statement of purpose as an articulation of academic growth, not personal growth. And then as for the school-specific paragraphs: you're definitely right to customize, but I'd cut remarks on moving to the area from where you live and remarks that are simply to show how much you know about the school. For the first half about yourself, I'd start with describing your honors thesis and move to your future research goals and questions; for the second half about the schools, I'd stick with faculty fit, research, etc.

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Ladystardust, since you do ask, my take on your CV design, your matching writing sample, and your matching statement of purpose is that it is both unnecessary and, yes, may well come off as gimmicky. And while I understand your instinct to use professor's papers to rewrite your writing sample, I wonder if that wouldn't also come across similarly. If you do end up needing to reapply, I'd strongly recommend just plain old white paper with black (standard) font, and I recommend for your writing sample simply working on writing your best and most thoroughly-researched piece, and making sure it accurately reflects your interests. Just words on a page. Good luck!

 

ETA:

 

w/r/t your statement of purpose, I know others have already mentioned that more than one professor whose work interests you is a good idea, but I would also like to suggest avoiding much of what you describe here:

 

 

Unless nursing school is relevant to your interests, I'd cut. I'd cut the quip about understanding people. I'd cut the love of literature and the "strengths and weaknesses." I received some helpful advice when I was applying: think about the statement of purpose as an articulation of academic growth, not personal growth. And then as for the school-specific paragraphs: you're definitely right to customize, but I'd cut remarks on moving to the area from where you live and remarks that are simply to show how much you know about the school. For the first half about yourself, I'd start with describing your honors thesis and move to your future research goals and questions; for the second half about the schools, I'd stick with faculty fit, research, etc.

 

 

Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to give your take on this stuff pink robot. I see that you've been admitted, so I appreciate you taking the time to comment, and honestly I'd love to have the chance to pick your brain even more. I feel very naive about this stuff. At my school, unless I missed it, there were never any lectures on how to get into grad school for an English PhD or anything like that, and my professors were awesome, but I felt like an idiot asking, and it looks like my application might have suffered for it. Everything I know about personal statements, I read from a book : "Graduate Admissions Essays" by Donald Asher. It recommended that I open up with a story about myself. I never thought incorporating professor's work into my writing sample might come off as gimmicky, but I'm so glad you drew my attention to that possibility. Honestly, I didn't get the idea until I started going through their articles and they spoke to me and I thought, why not? But I see where you're coming from. 

 

Pink Robot, can I ask if you would mind looking at my personal statement and seeing how it all works together and giving me feedback on it directly? Because that would be awesome! I totally fell in love with the opening to my personal statement, and I know in retrospect that's usually a good indication that I did not cut everything I should have.

 

Sorry if I'm getting too "me me me" here guys. Please feel free to keep talking about other application strategies and stuff. I really like the conversations here :)

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Ladystardust: Sure. This is a hectic semester for me, so it may take me some time to get back to you, but please feel free to PM. And if you want to chat with me but worry about derailing the thread, feel free to chat via PM, too. Good luck, all!

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Just to give some encouragement for some of the people who feel overwhelmed and underwhelming.

 

I did well in undergrad, but I didn't have any laurels or prizes or special summer schools. I took several years off to work, so I was woefully far away from old professors when I went to write my essays and prepare for the GREs. I wasn't a very distinguished candidate at all.

 

When I applied the first time out, I got rejected from everywhere except one slim MA program.

 

When I applied the second time out, I got rejected everywhere except one PhD program. It's a good program but not an Ivy. I didn't get any special funding packages or anything.

 

Flash forward a few years: I have a good dissertation and have outperformed everyone else in my cohort. I now have a publication forthcoming from the biggest journal in my field. I've presented at all the top conferences. The future is looking pretty good (or, as good as it looks for anyone in this field).

 

My point is that some people don't really excel until they're actually in a program. I was not one of those polished applicants--over the course of two rounds, I don't think I ever really got the statement of purpose "lingo" down or figured out how to really articulate my suitability for a particular line of study. I could never figure out how to "sell myself" or set myself apart from the crowd. I was always awed and intimated by people who fielded multiple offers from top schools and seemed to have these brilliant little dissertation ideas all ready to go. However, when it counted, I could do it. Your fate isn't decided the moment you get into a program--there's still a lot of time.

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hashslinger - that makes me feel so much better. I did not so well in undergrad (continual partying in my first few years and double major) but once I got to my masters I really did well. I'm still not so confident about the PhD... but it's nice to know someone else has gone through something similar.

 

Also I agree that at this point numbers are kind of meaningless. Anyone who is serious to apply to a PhD probably has excellent grades and good gre scores.

 

Also also. I hope I didn't come across as too self-impressed. I worked really, really hard. It was frustrating the first time I applied to a MA because the schools generally gave me a response that they thought perhaps I wasn't 'committed' enough since I had a Physics degree and that my ideas were too 'radical' and 'big' for a MA course. I basically had to teach myself for 2 years in between applications and do scholarly work outside of the institution since I wasn't able to afford so  much. Right now I had to graduate early so I could go back to work in order to have some medical stuff done. I'm actually getting so disillusioned with institutions and the amount of crap they put you through!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi all! Sorry for the long response, I suck at editing myself down, and it just feels like there is so much to say!

 

I graduate this May with a BA in English Literature and Psychology, as well as a minor in Women's Studies.

Overall GPA: 3.97, Lit GPA: 4.0. GRE scores not as flashy - V: 162, Q: 147, W:4.5. I'm not even going to mention Subject test because I straight BOMBED it (bad day met with nerves met with the fact that my strongest subject hardly appeared and my worst seemed like it was 80% of the test).

 

Other information: 3 incredibly personal, sincere, and strong recommendations from tenured, full-time professors (one academic advisor & Victorianist, one McNair mentor, one is the senior of all the professors & teaches the women & gender stuff, additionally, I have taken multiple classes with all of them). Also a McNair Scholar and have both completed and presented independent research. I have also gotten several institutional awards over the last few years.

 

I should probably also mention my main interests - Victorians, Gothic literature, gender/women's/queer studies, Anglophone (I like some American, just more British). I really like writing about sex or culturally taboo subjects; analyzing things that are transgressive in literature make my insides do somersaults (in a good way). I kind of use a few different critical lenses depending on what subject I am writing about. I mostly use New Historicism and Gender/Queer theory, but sometimes also write using a psychoanalytic, archetypal, or feminist lens.

 

 

My downfalls -

 

Currently attending a small, no-name undergraduate institution that most people living in the same state, hell, in the same county as it, haven't even heard of. And as I I already mentioned, my GRE Subject scores were too abysmal to even admit to. Not worried about low Quant score because I actually got the chance to speak personally with the Director of Admissions @ Harvard and she said for Literature they "couldn't care less" about how well a candidate does in Math.

 

 

My last two qualms about myself (They're the biggest):

 

1. I didn't have a writing sample that was specific to my area of concentration - the last time I took a course that focused on Victorian literature was Freshman year, and god knows that wasn't even good enough to edit into writing sample shape. I took two capstone courses (I didn't even have to take one technically, but I love seminar courses!). One was my sophomore year and on Jane Austen, I re-read my final paper and it was a mess compared to what I can do now. The second was this past fall, but was on Herman Melville. I wrote about the divided-self and homoeroticism in Melville's works, but still, not quite Victorian or Gothic, just sort of captures the Gender & Queer Studies, and the Psychoanalytic. My independent research was on Aphra Behn (the only professor available to work with me was Early Brit Lit). My favorite paper was one I wrote this past summer on Why Beloved is the crowning achievement of American Gothic literature (still not British, but hell, at least it focuses on the gothic & has a women/gender studies bend to it). This last paper is by far the best one I have ever written . . . but it's only ten pages and I just did not have the time to expand it to a decent length. The only good thing about this is that I tried to present it as a negative - that I can take subjects that intially do not interest me and find ways to connect them to my interests.

 

2. SOP/PS - even though I had many people read and review it several times, and I personalized each one to the program, I still found mistakes and weaknesses after my app was submitted. I really, REALLY, don't want to sound big-headed or cocky, but this is going to sound that way, so I apologize in advance - the more achievements or strengths you have to point out, the harder it gets to write a SOP that is truly detailed. I found myself leaving out sections about specific professors I'd like to work with unless it was specifically specified to do so in the prompt (did more broad connections as to why I am a good fit, some places I quoted the website in my intro and then attempted to show how I meet that description/expectation).

Personally, I am still a little lost how in 1,000 words you're suppose to: detail accomplishments, explain relevant coursework, explain relevant experiences outside coursework (research, work ex.), talk about how you would be an attribute to program moving forward, explain future research interests, mention specific professors you would like to work with and seamlessly weave in stuff from their research, talk about how you fit the program as a whole, mention why you want to get a graduate degree, mention what inspired you to want to get this degree/go into this field, don't be too anecdotal, and in all that, somehow sell that you are extremely passionate about the program. I know some of these topics mentioned can be combined, but even then . . . geez, it seems like an impossible task!

 

 

So pretty much - there are about a million things I would have done differently if I could do it all again. Retake GRE for better score on V & W, retake Subject test and hopefully not absolutely embarrass myself on it this time, create a writing sample that actually shows off my interests, and have more people read my SOP/PS and ask them specifically to tear it apart as much as they can. I only received one rejection so far, but the UMich-AA acceptances went out yesterday and I did not get one, and that was my top program. The other program I'm really in love with is Rutgers, but they required subject test scores, and no matter how great my other pieces of my application were, I'm convinced my subject test scores will doom me.

 

So at this point I feel dejected, misterable, and just want to stay in bed all day cuddling with my cat and reading.

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 I definitely do see what you're saying, but I also feel like I'm working with some disadvantages that may take me out of play. I failed an English class (I was 15 years old and in high school/dual-enrolled at a community college. Surely this can't be held against me on a personal level, but in academia, you know the ball-game). So despite having a beautifully clean GPA and decent GRE scores, as well as having won a competitive internship and graduating with honors, I am worried that there is just no getting past that portion of my application, despite the urging of my trusted professors to apply away. I don't know how founded these concerns are. Regardless, I am not confident. However, I know that I am a good fit for some program out there, and that if someone would be willing to take a chance on me, I would be able to prove my worth. I'm hoping my writing sample and SoP convey this. I'm sorry, I realize this isn't what this post is about, but I hope this does give people some insight as to the diversity of situations in the application process. 

I dropped out of high school and got my GED at age 31 so that I could go back to school. They are not going to hold high school class outcomes against you on a professional level. Your current "numbers" are not hurting you, so it will come down to fit. Really. Researching programs and communicating your potential in your SoP and writing sample are the best investments of your time--not worrying about water under the high school bridge! Hang in there!

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I dropped out of high school and got my GED at age 31 so that I could go back to school. They are not going to hold high school class outcomes against you on a professional level. Your current "numbers" are not hurting you, so it will come down to fit. Really. Researching programs and communicating your potential in your SoP and writing sample are the best investments of your time--not worrying about water under the high school bridge! Hang in there!

Wow, that's wonderful, and congratulations! I'm very close to being shut out this go-round, but I do still have three schools left to hear back from and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm very glad for your input, and best of luck to you :)

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Hell, Harvard, I believe, doesn't accept anyone with a Masters, so that is food for thought.

 

I'm not sure how true or not true this is...in any case, here is an FAQ from Harvard's website:

 

What if I already have a Master's Degree in English? Will I have advanced standing?

If you already have an MA, a maximum of four graduate-level courses may be transferred from the other institution, at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. Transferred courses will count as 100-level courses toward your PhD requirements. Please note that an MA is not required for admission to the PhD Program – and indeed, the majority of our applicants do not have one.
It would be cool if any Harvard admits could say whether they had an MA upon entering, but I won't hold my breath. My point is that they haven't ruled out MAs from an adcomm policy perspective.
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Wow, that's wonderful, and congratulations! I'm very close to being shut out this go-round, but I do still have three schools left to hear back from and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm very glad for your input, and best of luck to you :)

I really hope you are successful this year, but if not, remember that next year it will be a different set of departmental priorities, a different set of applicants, a different ballgame! Good luck.

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I really hope you are successful this year, but if not, remember that next year it will be a different set of departmental priorities, a different set of applicants, a different ballgame! Good luck.

I'm actually applying to a few MA programs and hoping to try that route, but thank you! I seriously appreciate all your kind words and advice :)

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I'm actually applying to a few MA programs and hoping to try that route, but thank you! I seriously appreciate all your kind words and advice :)

That's a great approach. I am so glad, in hindsight (though I was pretty bummed at the time), that I didn't get in to any PhD programs right out of the BA. The MA experience has been amazing, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with a different set of faculty at this level, before going on. I wouldn't do it differently even if I could go back and magic myself into one of those PhD programs. ;-) 

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That's a great approach. I am so glad, in hindsight (though I was pretty bummed at the time), that I didn't get in to any PhD programs right out of the BA. The MA experience has been amazing, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with a different set of faculty at this level, before going on. I wouldn't do it differently even if I could go back and magic myself into one of those PhD programs. ;-)

I keep hearing this! Some of my favorite professors were shut out straight out of their BA and said the years in between their first application season and subsequent ones were crucial to where they've ended up. I'm slightly disappointed that PhD applications haven't panned out for me so far, but I am starting to love the idea of living where my MA would take me, and I definitely think I would be a stronger applicant with a few more years of experience :)

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I keep hearing this! Some of my favorite professors were shut out straight out of their BA and said the years in between their first application season and subsequent ones were crucial to where they've ended up. I'm slightly disappointed that PhD applications haven't panned out for me so far, but I am starting to love the idea of living where my MA would take me, and I definitely think I would be a stronger applicant with a few more years of experience :)

 

Yes, I definitely think the MA is not at all a consolation prize. I applied to 6 programs the first time around, got rejected from all but one, which was an unfunded MA program. Two years later, I'm accepted to 2 top 50 programs, wait listed at 1, and have a decent shot at a fourth considering it's my current program. I'm in debt, but I wouldn't change my experience at all. I'm such a stronger candidate now. But, don't count yourself out yet. Still more programs to go!

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